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    March 8th, 2012 @ 10:47 pm by Kevin

    I was just watching Andrew Stanton’s TED talk (highly recommended, BTW), during which he noted that children’s entertainer Mr. Rogers used to carry the following quote in his wallet: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love if you heard their story.”

    For many people, I’m sure this is difficult to accept. Because if you’ve ever been victimized, the last thing you want to hear is an explanation of why the person did what he did. All you want to do is find the bastard and make him pay.

    For example, if a serial killer abducted one of my daughters, tortured her, raped her and then tossed her body into a ditch, I don’t know what I’d do. But I don’t think any father is immune to revenge fantasies along the lines of what the Bear did to the German soldier in Inglourious Basterds.

    As understandable as that reaction would be, once we move beyond the raw emotion of such experiences, we have to admit that one of the reasons we’re so appalled by evil–and why we often find it so incomprehensible–is our lack of perspective.

    Think about it: By the time we encounter someone like a serial killer, he’s at or very near to the end of his story. So it seems as if his evil acts simply appeared out of the blue. That’s why we tend to label such people as madmen or psychopaths. How else can we explain their behavior?

    But what if we could go back to the beginning of his story, to meet him when he was a little boy? A boy born into a dysfunctional family that barely had enough resources to survive, let alone properly diagnose certain psychological tendencies. A family that potentially made those tendencies worse through neglect and abuse.

    Armed with this understanding–the realization that his evil acts weren’t random occurrences or the product of an innately evil nature but the outcome of a long line of situations and choices, many of which were beyond his control–could I find it in my heart to love the serial killer then? Maybe that’s still asking too much. But could I at least bring myself to pity him, to feel empathy toward him?

    Perhaps, but that still wouldn’t change my situation. My daughter would still be dead, and I would never be able to enjoy another sunny day that wouldn’t be at least partially clouded by her loss. So I don’t think I could ever truly let things go.

    Once again though, my problem would be one of perspective. As a Christian, I’m supposed to believe in something called the Resurrection. It’s right at the center of our faith. This is the Good News of which the apostles preached. Many Christians today define the Gospel as, “Good News! You don’t have to go to hell when you die!” But if you listen to the way the message is actually preached throughout the book of Acts, it’s more along the lines of “Good News! Death is not the end!” Jesus defeated death and sin on the cross, and he proved it by coming back from the dead. The good news is, we can all hope to do the same:

    But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

    So let me change the parameters of the question once again: What if I could go back to the beginning of the serial killer’s story and learn about the situations and choices that led to his evil acts? What if everything the serial killer took way from my daughter and me could be restored? And what if I could make the serial killer understand the true gravity of his crimes against us, to the point where he falls to his knees in grief, utterly desperate for our forgiveness. Could I find it in my heart to love him then? Or would I still want to “make the bastard pay”?

    The way I see it, a great many people’s theology of hell would insist that he still be made to pay. Forever. Is that really what God is like?

    If so, perhaps he’s never watched Mr. Rogers…

leave a comment on this post (13 Comments)

  1. Wow! Great post. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Love is all we need…very nice.
    You keep quoting the CHRISTIAN bible, picking and choosing what suits your “we’re just loving puppets” theory. The love part is all right but the evil and justice part, well, that can’t be right because, I can’t make sense of it.
    If Christ was wrong in one thing, he was wrong in everything else. After all He claimed to be the Son of God.
    Instead of butchering Christ’s teaching, I would suggest that you would do much better by throwing the whole thing out, THAT would make more sense. There are many other points of views at your disposal, nothing as rational mind you.

    • Ben: what you’ve said here is a gross distortion of my post and my position. I think a sticking point for you may be that you equate justice with punishment. I see things differently. Free will also seems to be at issue. You should know by now what I think of that. We are puppets, yes, but not God’s puppets. Until Christ frees us, we are in bondage to sin and death. I believe God is in the process of freeing our will. And I’m not sure that process is ever complete this side of the grave.

  3. If I grossly distorted what you said, I would be thankful for your correction. I stand by what I said unless corrected.
    I could comment that you equate justice with reward, but I well know that reward without punishment does not make sense. Perhaps to you it does, as you are trying very hard to do away with punishment.

    “Christ in the process of freeing our will” is not so easy to comment on.
    You’ve written in a previous post and I quote:”…many of us imagine someone who rejects God as exercising their free will. But if God is the all-loving, omniscient, omnipotent being Christians make him out to be–if he’s at all like Jesus–what free person would possibly reject him?”
    Also: “So something in their biography must have made them irrational, and from that point onward, no choice they make could ever be considered “free.”
    We have free choice, we do not choose a little, we make a choice. Some acts are evil by nature, if I choose to kill a person I know is innocent, I commit an evil act. My degree of culpability (perhaps what you would call degree of freedom, which is misleading)cannot be judge by any of us but by God. To figure out God’s mind and the after life as it relates to judgment, we have one and only one source…Jesus-Christ. That is why it is so very important that one knows his message well.
    My FB Note FOUNDATIONS OF MY BELIEFS where I quote Rahner, addresses this question very well, me think.
    I forgot the hockey game…I better get going.

    • B/c I’m also watching the game, I’ll just say this: being capable of doing something is not the same as being free to do something. I have no doubt you can exercise your will in all sorts of ways. But what motivates those decisions? If you chose to kill someone, is that actually an expression of freedom? To my way of thinking, it’s merely indicative of bondage to selfishness.

      • James S. Cameron May 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm

        Without giving an opinion as to who’s right and who’s wrong, I’d like to pose this question: Is the serial killer any more or less “evil” a killer as those who proclaim and support a war? In other words, let’s take the Iraq war as a for instance.. George Bush, the people around him, supporting him, the Allied nations, and the majority of the U.S. population as a collective whole (for that matter)… why are these intentional, random “killers of innocent people” not in the ranks of , say, “the Son of Sam” in God’s eyes? (or ARE they?).

        • I think that’s a great question, James. This hits in the notion of sacred violence, the idea that I can tell a story that justifies my violence but villainizes yours.

    • Here’s a quote for you seeing as we’re between periods: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who believe they are free.” — Goethe

  4. Freedom is certainly the crux of the matter in this conversation. So it is worth a bit of an effort on my part, certainly. So, I will post a note on your FB wall in the near future.
    I will address what I think freedom is, and give seven ways in which we can know with certainty that human free will exist and that we are, in fact, free.
    The definition of free will might become the contentious point. I will look forward to your comment.
    Now back to the hockey game.

  5. Very thoughtful post. I am wondering whether you have read the book “The Shack”?

  6. Wow , you just condensed one of my favorite books, The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott, into one pithy blog post. Well done! The parameter change of your question is essential because you’ve highlighted reconciliation, not just forgiveness, and that is what I find my heart longs for, even with my worst “enemies.”

    Also, thank you so much for that Mr. Rogers tidbit. I might just have to keep that same quote in my own wallet. 🙂

  7. Isn’t the jist of this post basically what is played out in the novel/movie, The Shack? The guy’s daughter gets sexually molested and killed by a predator, and he’s wracked by rage and a desire for revenge. But then God takes him back to see his own story, and really the story of all sinners. And he ends up forgiving (loving) the killer. Which demonstrates the point: no matter how heinous and vile someone’s behavior may be, there is a path toward understanding, forgiveness, and love that begins when you go back and hear their story.

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